It's rather ironic that in a race sponsored by a multinational drinks giant, it should all come down to someone running dry in the final 500 yards of a 600 mile race. But it wasn't for want of a glass of Coca-Cola that the series' most popular river failed to break his wins drought, but rather a few extra drops of precious gasoline.
The Coca-Cola 600 is the Sprint Cup series' longest race, and while an extra hundred miles over the already lengthy oval events held elsewhere might not seem too much of a big deal, it presents a unique challenge to the Sprint Cup drivers, their cars and especially their engines; while the fact that the race starts in the evening sunlight, transitions through dusks and ends up in the pit black of night time is a whole different set of headaches for the teams to overcome.
The race commenced at 6.20pm before an estimated capacity crowd of 140,000 as pole sitter Brad Keselowski led the field across the start line to take the green flag alongside AJ Allmendinger. But moving up quickly from the second row was Carl Edwards and on lap 8 he took the lead from Keselowski to lay early claim to the race.
Making his Sprint Cup début in the Wood Brothers #21 normally driven by Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got off to a shaky start when he scraped the wall on lap 3 and fell backwards out of the top ten as a result, but after he'd had time to take stock he was back on the radio to report to the team that there were no lasting problems with the car as a result of the impact. Mike Skinner also hit the wall during the opening laps, but was able to bring the car back to the garage without bringing out a yellow flag.
During the first stint, cars were just bedding in and hoping that the car wouldn't display any problems. Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart were both concerned with escalating temperatures in their cars - Stewart's #14 was registering temperatures of around 134 degrees Fahrenheit inside - while Kevin Harvick was saying that his car was flat-out terrible, David Reutimann's was tight and Jamie McMurray's simply slow.
Carl Edwards remained in the lead until he came in for his turn in pit road for the first round of green flag pit stops; Jeff Burton briefly took over before coming in and then AJ Allmendinger had the better pit stop and led for five laps before Edwards was up to speed and past him to resume the lead once more. The two of them were pulling away form the pack which was headed by Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth - the latter hanging on despite reporting a vibration that threatened to send him back to pit road for another set of tyres.
But Edwards' pace was untouchable and soon he was over 4s ahead of even Allmendinger. By the time the first caution of the night came out on lap 74 (for debris in turn 1) he had led 60 laps. The only other person to be really catching the eye out there was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had started from 25th place and was now the biggest mover of the night so far, up 17 places.
Jeff Burton won the race off pit road by taking only two tyres and led the field to green followed by Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson; Hamlin decided he wanted a go in front; he gave Burton a push on the restart that allowed him room to slip on front of Edwards, and then claimed the lead for himself next time around on lap 81.
Edwards, meanwhile, was feeling rather less confident at this point of the race and got loose, allowing Jimmie Johnson to pass him for third; Burton was also struggling with that decision to take only two tyres, and slipped out of the leading runners, his place taken instead by Matt Kenseth.